Is there a glass ceiling for Asians in the sciences?

For today’s Science Friday I wanted to talk about science policy (mostly because I don’t have time today to dissect a hard science article) .  This week’s edition of the journal Science features an article (paid subscription required) that debates the suggestion by some that there exists a glass ceiling for Asians in science leadership positions, here in the U.S.:

Virologist Kuan-Teh Jeang always thought it strange that his employer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), would celebrate Asian Heritage Week each year with a cultural fair. “We’re not known for being great cooks or dancers. We’re known for being great scientists,” says Jeang about an ethnic group that, according to 2000 census data, comprises 14.7% of U.S. life scientists despite being only 4.1% of the nation’s overall workforce. So last year, he and the NIH/Food and Drug Administration Chinese American Association launched a new tradition: inviting a distinguished Asian researcher to give a scientific talk.

This May, as Asian Heritage Week approached, Jeang and his colleagues had another idea: Why not use the occasion to examine the status of Asian scientists within NIH’s intramural program? Jeang had already collected some disturbing numbers about opportunities for career advancement at NIH, and he was eager to see whether his numbers squared with an official tally by NIH officials.

To his chagrin, they did. Whereas 21.5% of NIH’s 280 tenure-track investigators (the equivalent of assistant professors) are Asian, they comprise only 9.2% of the 950 senior investigators (tenured researchers) at NIH. And only 4.7% of the roughly 200 lab or branch chiefs are Asian. (For this story, the term “Asian” includes all scientists with Asian surnames, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. The group is dominated by scientists of Chinese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, or Japanese origin.) Within particular institutes, the numbers were even more sobering. As of this spring, just one of 55 lab chiefs at the National Cancer Institute, NIH’s largest, was Asian. At the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where Jeang works, none of the 22 lab chiefs was Asian.

To Jeang and others, the numbers point to a glass ceiling for Asian life scientists seeking to move up the career ladder.

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p>I know this may be a contentious issue.  Some people automatically think that any suggestion of inequality is “whining.”  Maybe part of the lack of Asians in leadership positions may be due to the stigma associated with a language barrier (or a perceived barrier).  This should become much less of an issue as a generation of American-born Asians reaches “the proper age of leadership.”Another scientist quoted in the article is more blunt in voicing his displeasure:

“Chinese Americans tend to be quiet, partly because their voices and concerns are not listened to. But should that mean obedience and subordination forever?”

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p>Not everyone is convinced however that this is even an issue.  “What discrimination?” ask some.

But the issue is also very complicated, says Yu Xie, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who has studied both the behavior of scientists and the growing presence of Asians in U.S. society. “Often people look at statistics, and they jump to the conclusion that there has been discrimination,” says Yu, who came to the United States from China in 1982 for graduate school. “I haven’t seen any evidence that it is the case. It might be true, but we just don’t know enough to reach a conclusion one way or the other.” Indeed, several Asian scientists interviewed for this article say they haven’t experienced any type of glass ceiling. “I personally don’t feel that it applies to me. But I’m not very sensitive,” says Liqun Luo of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who earlier this year was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

In my experience there does seem to be a lack of Asians and South Asians in leadership positions in science and engineering.  In general, it seems like we are employed more often as worker bees.  Since we do it so well why shake up the status quo?  Like I said though, this could be a generational thing.  I for one am not satisfied unless I’m in charge.

50 thoughts on “Is there a glass ceiling for Asians in the sciences?

  1. This should become much less of an issue as a generation of American-born Asians reaches “the proper age of leadership.

    That will be interesting to see. I am not too optimistic yet.

    Indeed, several Asian scientists interviewed for this article say they havenÂ’t experienced any type of glass ceiling.

    I find it curious when people don’t realize they are being discriminated against. Am I more sensitive about such issues because I understand the tacit, language and institutional discrimination (due to being born here)? Because I grew up with such issues? Even my own parents didn’t view some of my own experiences as having anything to do with racism: for them only “sand nigger” type comments qualify. I give up on trying to explain. Perhaps because they grew up in a country where they were in the majority, they don’t understand… And, no, I’m not a whiner, or “sensitive” just able see shitty-ass barriers for what they are. Yes, alot of promotions, etc. are relationship based, which are often culturally-based, which are often ethnic-background-based, and definitely gender-based, but that’s no excuse. Diversity is a very important factor in the success of any organization, and that includes diversity at the top. Betta recognize.

    Or…start your own companies, y’all.

  2. I agree with Ang. Lots of Asians and South Asians want to deny the existence of racism in situations. Maybe they’re afraid of talking about it?

    I think people who grew up in the US, like I did, would definitely be able to see racism when they encounter it. Whereas, in my experience, Asians who immigrated here later on in life, tend not to see it.

    Yes, alot of promotions, etc. are relationship based, which are often culturally-based, which are often ethnic-background-based, and definitely gender-based, but that’s no excuse. Diversity is a very important factor in the success of any organization, and that includes diversity at the top. Betta recognize.

    That’s definitely true. I overheard a conversation between two science professionals the other day, while I was at a university. Both were American white men. One was employed at a big name US science corporation (won’t say the name, because it’s too well known) and the other man was going to be sending his resume to work at that corporation and was looking for interview tips. The First guy told him not to worry, because since he was American, he would have an advantage, since he didn’t have the “language barriers” that a lot of foreigners had. Both men seemed to have been bonding because of their common white American ethnicity.

  3. i completely agree with what has been said, and go one step farther. Growing up in CT of all places taught me a significant amount about very wealthy greedy white people.

    I agree with Ang. Lots of Asians and South Asians want to deny the existence of racism in situations.

    I agree also, it pisses me off so much, its worse than a self-hater, infact its sadder, someone who wants to conform with so society so badly they block stuff out. This can go on for days, either way its bullshit, i’m just going to start my own company.

  4. hmmmm… you’ve got me thinking.

    while i would agree that the lack of Asians in leadership is suspicious, before i cry ‘racism’ i’d prefer to see a more in depth study of the situation.

    sometimes numbers are deceptive. how long have the scientists been with the NIH? in the past have Asians come up for tenure and been denied at a higher rate than individuals of other races?

    and…

    I agree with Ang. Lots of Asians and South Asians want to deny the existence of racism in situations. Maybe they’re afraid of talking about it? I think people who grew up in the US, like I did, would definitely be able to see racism when they encounter it. Whereas, in my experience, Asians who immigrated here later on in life, tend not to see it.

    i agree with that statement 100% Demondoll.

    i have watched people walk up to my parents and straight up say something so out of line that I wanted to intervene and my parents would just write it off. only in the last 5 years have they come to realize that people [especially their neighbors] can be EXTREMELY racist. i wonder if its because they feel like they have so much opportunity? or is it a cultural thing? i dunno…. it does bother me a lot.

  5. It’s too true, the abnegation I have found amongst desi’s in terms of being discriminated against. Just a thought: could it be that desi’s are completely aware of what’s happening, but have a sort of warped empathy for it, due to the culturally-sanctioned elitism within their own communities.

  6. Sometimes numbers are deceptive. How long have the scientists been with the NIH? In the past have Asians come up for tenure and been denied at a higher rate than individuals of other races?

    This can’t be emphasized enough. It’s important to take a scientific view of these things. One of the few things that’s almost as bad as racism is crying out racism falsely.

    One good question, for example, is to figure out how great the percentage of the so-called worker bees (I don’t see how you’d call tenure track assistant professors that, though) was in, say, the 1970s, because it’s those folks who were at that level then who should be full professors and lab chiefs now.

    My suspicion is that Asian-Americans will do just fine in science. I wish I could feel so optimistic about some of America’s other minorities.

  7. Ok, I am intrigued by your comments that immigrants tend to write off racism.

    As an immigrant, I can tell you this: it is difficult to distinguish sometimes between “racism” and language/cultural barriers. And if you want to survive, you just ascribe people’s behaviour to the latter. Treating a foreigner differently is universal, not just American, so it doesn’t feel that bad.

    Having said that, I’d like to hear some specific examples of racism that desis encounter in modern American cities. I’m just curious, since I probably don’t know enough to see a lot of it myself.

  8. well….there may or may not be a glass ceiling for Asians, but it is also true that most Asians have been working only since the mid eighties, and more in the nineties. This means it is more likely that they are at junior or middle level positions, and only a small number are likely to be division heads……

    Numbers may not say it all here….

  9. While at the BlogOn conference last week a friend and I (two white women) noticed enough to comment to one another that in many of the “Innovator” product demos that took place up on stage (of which there were 10) the guy working the demo was Asian, but the guy talking to the audience was a white guy in his 30′s.

    One can hardly say those guys were being “held down” by being 2nd in command at a start-up (which many of them were.) Until you’re the Asian man who wants to front the company and start to get resistance and hear that the co. needs someone with “the right rolodex” or who can “speak the investors language” or other kind of subtle objections. Not all barriers come in the form of overt racist words or actions…but the unquestioned perpetuation of the status quo sometimes does an equally good job of keeping minorities out.

  10. As an immigrant, I can tell you this: it is difficult to distinguish sometimes between “racism” and language/cultural barriers. And if you want to survive, you just ascribe people’s behaviour to the latter. Treating a foreigner differently is universal, not just American, so it doesn’t feel that bad.

    I agree with Technophobic geek here. I may be good in understanding the English language, that doesn’t mean that I understand the American culture. However hard I try to understand the American culture, I may be still looking from my Indian prespective only. I wud say a person, who is born here will be more sensitive to the issues of racism than a person who comes from outside.

    For an immigrant like me, Survival is the first thing that comes to mind, How I cud overcome all the barriers in this new country and make a better living. Fighting for racism would be the last in the list. Bottom line….. I am not here to fight.

    I would like to hear other desi immigrants view on this issue…..

  11. Having said that, I’d like to hear some specific examples of racism that desis encounter in modern American cities. I’m just curious, since I probably don’t know enough to see a lot of it myself.

    Now, I didn’t say you don’t know enough. I am all for immigrant rights, and I love the intelligence and hard work and values that immigrants have to offer. I don’t doubt your intelligence for one second. However, there is more to communication than verbal language: you probably have better vocabulary than me! But, it’s the tacit, non-verbal communication where the intentions behind institutional racism become a little clearer. That is what some immigrants are missing out on. It is not that they are not smart enough; it just takes a long time to understand this form of communication, and hence, all the comments that some immigrants may not notice some discrimination, or that it takes being born/raised here and fully aware of such subtle cultural nuances to recognize it. However, regardless of whether they notice it or not, it still directly affects them and that’s what matters, and that’s what I care about. I care less about overt, verbal racism received from trash, and more about this which directly affects our lives.

    Having said that, I can specific examples, and I encourage others to do the same – examples of institutional racism. It’s going to be bloody long, so I promise to do so when I get a chance to properly word it later in the evening or on the weekend. I think specific examples will help you understand, but even then, such experiences will be questioned because there is little proof. It’s hard to get hard proof in such instances; but if you add up the numbers along with human behaviour, a logical case can be made, and should be accepted.

  12. One can hardly say those guys were being “held down” by being 2nd in command at a start-up (which many of them were.) Until you’re the Asian man who wants to *front* the company and start to get resistance and hear that the co. needs someone with “the right rolodex” or who can “speak the investors language” or other kind of subtle objections. Not all barriers come in the form of overt racist words or actions…but the unquestioned perpetuation of the status quo sometimes does an equally good job of keeping minorities out.

    Elisa Camahort – I think you make a valid point here, except i totally disagree with you. As i’m sure you know business is dictated by money, plain and simple. Companies want to make as much as possible, and target their products to their customer base. So basically it is my interest(start up company)to have a blonde hair blue-eyed smooth talker selling my product. While i’m not happy about something like this, its in the hands of the public. I do think the tides are changing as foreign markets are soaring and the rest of the world is catching up at a fast pace.

  13. It’s more than a language barrier; it’s a cultural barrier as well. My father worked for a well-known pharmaceutical company, and I remember him coming home after work and asking me about the show Seinfeld. He wanted to watch it so that he could participate in office small talk. But he didn’t find the show funny at all, and I felt bad because I knew he just wanted to fit in. I don’t think it was racist on the part of his colleagues, but it did leave my dad feeling isolated. He now works for a pharmaceutical company in India, and he has many more friends at work. He has climbed up the corporate ladder quite easily, and his work ethic is still the same. In other words, nothing changed except his environment. My mom feels he never would have made it to a similar position in America, and sadly, she’s right.

  14. My father worked for a well-known pharmaceutical company, and I remember him coming home after work and asking me about the show Seinfeld. He wanted to watch it so that he could participate in office small talk. But he didn’t find the show funny at all, and I felt bad because I knew he just wanted to fit in.

    That’s so sad. I feel for your dad. A small example of institutional racism; i.e. hard work alone will not get you to the top: You have to be “in” with the bosses. Even if you do get it, if you are a visible minority, you will likely be perceived as not “getting it” or having similar interests; therefore, less likely to have friendships with the people that are promoting you. A select few can work past this, but it’s difficult. Business deals are often made on the green, not on merit, alone.

  15. Ahavat, I want to say again, your post speaks volumes. Thank you. Glad your dad has found some happiness at work.

  16. “So basically it is my interest(start up company)to have a blonde hair blue-eyed smooth talker selling my product.”

    My point exactly is that people believe it is in their interest without evidence that this is so. Show me the companies whose chances were torpedoes because they had an Asian front man? (I’m really asking, I know of no examples.)

    20 years ago my mom’s company told her they could never make her VP because a lot of her clients were Japanese, and they wouldn’t accept a woman. (Despite the fact that she’d been traveling there and dealing with those folks…the company had never had a woman VP.)

    Well (2 years later than deserved) she finally got that promotion…and the sky did not fall. Business was fine. She was accepted on her merit. And I’m proud to say she paved the way at the particular company.

  17. The main problem with the article is that they mention a statistical disparity in asian representation between tenured and non-tenured faculty, but they don’t give any sense of timelines.

    In the natural sciences, it takes 5-7 years, to complete a Ph.D, another 3-5 years to complete a postdoc, and then another 7 years before tenure. at the very least, you are looking at a 15 year pipeline from first admission to tenure. The large increase in Ph.D admissions from Asia happened in the 90s, so it is only now that we should start seeing some increase in tenured Asian faculty in the sciences.

    Secondly, a lot of examples of overt/covert discrimination come from the corporate world. I don’t deny the possibility of glass ceilings in the corporate world, but what does this have to do with tenure vs not ? the academic world has very different metrics for success, and frankly most universities care more about who’s bringing in grant money etc than knowing the latest scoop on Seinfeld.

    Where a “lack of social skills” might harm researchers is in the networking that helps lead to grant funding. But I don’t think the article (or at least the excerpts here) suggest any real underlying dynamic

  18. This is a little off-topic, but yes we should give the public a little more credit about who they will and will not accept.

    Well (2 years later than deserved) she finally got that promotion…and the sky did not fall. Business was fine. She was accepted on her merit. And I’m proud to say she paved the way at the particular company.

    Hallelujah!

    But a big problem is lack of leadership positions period, not only the figurehead or sales positions, which are often based on public perception. There is a problem with internal executive positions (minus the CEO) which often have little to do with public relations, especially in a science/technology firm.

  19. A lot of the reasons for the Asian glass ceiling are discussed here: social segregration, different communication style from managers, managers’ preference in the face of uncertainty to hire those most like them, political inexperience, lack of mentors, religious discrimination, cultural selection against high-visibility projects and self-promotion.

  20. yeah, i think you guys are whiners. and yeah, i think if asians get on the whining band wagon it won’t be good for american science and technology, so perhaps america should stop letting colored asians in. perhaps this was better as a white country, i mean, was america hurting for sci & tech before 1965?

    1) as people have said, age matters.

    2) as people have said, culture matters. my father left academia and is working at a biomedical company, and he always complains about the inability to banter and chit-chat in a way that ingratiates himself to his coworkers (he routinely confuses jokes and gets offended). in the 1980s a lawyer he consulted during his sponsorship process told him “make eye contact,” because many asian origin immigrants didn’t like to make eye with authorities so they wouldn’t be disrespectful, but in the USA that was perceived as suggesting they had something to hide. to some extent, if you are not fluent in the idiom of the mainstream culture, you are like temple grandin, an autistic idiot savant.

    3) if you have an accent, that sucks, but you can spend money and time and get rid of that accent. one of my cousins did just that (took him a year of classes to purge it). he switched accounting firms, and now he pretends like he isn’t FOB (he still a real mild monica seles type accent, but the fucker tells people he’s from new hampshire, and in seattle they don’t know how people back east talk too well).

    4) even without the accent, for some groups, cultural differences matter. this is like east asian guys complaining about being rejected by east asian chicks, they don’t consider if part of the problem is that they don’t exhibit the swagger and machismo of non-east asians (the cultural ideal in much of east asia is for scholars who don’t work with their hands, the european manly man derives from the noble who engaged in martial pursuits).

    5) taking culture out of it, i’ve noticed in lab meetings that a lot of postdocs are wall-flowers, but the lad heads are well adjusted in their personality and exhibit self-confidence and are vocal. i don’t think this is all due differences in intelligence and rank, the postdocs without spine probably leave science and go do something where they don’t have to compete as hard or make their voices heard.

    6) cliches about diversity seem bizarre to me in science. i thought it was about competence. diversity matters if you don’t have black salesmen to communicate with black clients. if people in your lab don’t get along because cultural differences grate, then diversity is a weakness. that is why people talk about “corporate culture,” apple isn’t novell. an ex-gf of mine went to work at a redcross office in the south, and she was the odd one out in a religiously conservative office where they were all from the south. this isn’t just a racial thing, it is a human thing. unfortunately, when there is a racial angle there is a prefab set of complaints and concerns that can be trotted out.

    7) also, i am sure discrimination exists. that being said, the discrimination that asians at the NIH go through seems trivial next to what blacks experienced. is this what “equal rights” is now getting reduced to? making sure that a chinese american scientist gets his promotion? if there is discrimination, that sucks, but there is a certain overhead with process that might eventually swamp about the system’s ability to achieve the ends.

    8) competence and pushiness speaks louder than whining. ask jews.

    9) and i’d rather be a sand nigger in america than a brown dude in brownland. life is about a variety of sucky choices.

    p.s. a close friend of mine is an evangelical christian who also happens to be doing graduate work in evolutionary biology. he’s from the midwest, nothing bizarre about him racially, but he get’s questions every single day from christians and the scientists in his lab about what the fuck he’s doing. and of course he’ll probably be the “odd one out” his whole life, he does have an odd combination of beliefs. if he doesn’t get a tenure track position, will he wonder if it is because he is an evangelical christian in a field where 95% of tenured professors are atheists? i don’t know, i hope he doesn’t, there aren’t enough people like him to stop the wheels of science to examine it for justice. science is about politics, if you suck at it, well, you suck.

  21. Manish has summed everything up perfectly — and the same things happen here in the UK too. I’ve always found the “language barrier” excuse to be laughable and ridiculous when directed at South Asians who were actually born in the West, especially those who are highly educated.

  22. Show me the companies whose chances were torpedoes because they had an Asian front man? (I’m really asking, I know of no examples.)

    How could anyone have definitive proof that a company goes to shit based on the race of a front man? There are so many factors at play, its impossible to pin point it to one detail. How many successful start ups have become large companies which have had an asian front man?

    As for your mother, well thats impressive, but does it make it okay that it took her 2 extra years to make up for the fact she wasn’t a man.

  23. an ex-gf of mine went to work at a redcross office in the south

    By the way, I love how Razib so often begins his stories with the words “an ex-girlfriend of mine” in the same way that you used to hear so many elderly people keep saying “When I was in the War…”

    wink Just kidding Razib, I mean this affectionately ;)

  24. I will remain quiet on this thread as I have been practicising science in some form in US for nearly two decades, and do not want to open can of worms.

    however, i have to agree with manish.

    there are people now and then break barriers, but with strong mentors. even without mentors, you can if you are s. chandrashekar.

  25. How many successful start ups have become large companies which have had an asian front man?

    I don’t know about start-ups, but the telco giant Vodafone is headed by an Indian guy here in the UK.

    Also, apparently the most admired business icon in the UK these days is a gentleman called Karan Bilimoria, owner of the beer company Cobra.

    Mr Bilimoria is, however, supersmooth and supercool in a James Bond/Pierce Brosnon kinda way, so maybe that’s one reason why his desi background hasn’t held him back (he’s not exactly the Apu stereotype in his manner, speech, or personality).

    Isn’t McKinsey headed these days by an Indian guy too ?

  26. Read Manish’s paper. The only thing I have to add to it is:

    1.While gender bias does exist, it’s not nearly as bad as racial discrimination because you can relate to the opposite sex more than one can relate to another race. Why? Well, members of the opposite sex exist within your own family, and social structure, while different races may not.

    1. Yes, cultural differences and desiring relatability are big factors in promotion. However, relatibility is often perceived. Thus a brown man without an accent who “gets Seinfeld” will be perceived the same as the brown man who doesn’t. Skin colour speaks volumes: The exec will beleive you just don’t get it. So, razib, the cultural difference card is not enough because stereotyping is already present and accounted for.

    ….And even if there are cultural differences, there are certainly more universal similarities. Quit being lazy, get outside of your comfort zone, and start talking to people you normally wouldn’t. You and your risk-averse company will be better for it. Diversity does pay off, and it isn’t a cliche.

    I’m not whining. I’m one of the few who can overcome such issues because I am outspoken and personable and charming and etc, and I can work “the system” but I see the dilemma and I want to speak up for those who can’t or won’t. Why not help to make a better place to live?

  27. Razib

    I agree with you about the whining element and analysis of the situation.

    Most success is about “playing the game.” Most people who complain about not getting forward must begin with accepting that there “game playing” skills are not good enough, thats all.

    Women also complain about this frequently. (and the arguments you make apply there too)

    As for humor, I have noticed what most aggressive people call humor is a subtle way of putting another down.

    Only the ones who can be at the receiving end of humor, have any right/business of using the humor factor as a social tool.

    For those who are defnitely socially at the lower end of the food chain, its perfectly fine to be oversensitive to humor.

    We would never carelessly “piss off” anyone pwoerful without thinking. So clearly when people use the excuse” I didnt know it would offend you” its another way of saying “I dont care what you think” That attitude is best responded to aggressively. (with the help of others, never alone)

    There are a lot of social tips brown folks need to learn in the game of one upmanship, that any elite goup plays with those who are not perceived elite.

    Sumita

    PS: None of these are my thoughts. I had a great prof in B-school who excelled in getting the best of any situation and taught a course on power and repeated these things frequently. This discussion reminded me of him.

  28. By the way, I love how Razib so often begins his stories with the words “an ex-girlfriend of mine” in the same way that you used to hear so many elderly people keep saying “When I was in the War…”

    i guess you are right. but my unitarian-universalist ex from idaho gave me a lot of insights into interUSA cultural differences (she worked in baton rouge). she could barely make herself understood to people initially because of accent!

    While gender bias does exist, it’s not nearly as bad as racial discrimination because you can relate to the opposite sex more than one can relate to another race. Why? Well, members of the opposite sex exist within your own family, and social structure, while different races may not.

    i think this is more true than not, but it needs to be modulated. in my experience women experience grotesque behavior from males walking down the street far more often than rednecks yell “sand nigger” at me. while women in saudi arabia can be treated like operational chattel, if the saudi state did that in a race based manner, than it would be an international concern. my point is that sexism is more tacitly accepted, even if its ramifications are less wide-ranging. also, i want to address the fact that races don’t hang out. i don’t begrudge anyone the right to hang out with their own kind because they aren’t comfortable with others, but there are costs involved in this. you form social networks within your ingroup, and if you ingroup isn’t in a position to help you, you are often screwed.

    So, razib, the cultural difference card is not enough because stereotyping is already present and accounted for.

    granted. it accounts for a portion of the variation. i am not saying discrimination doesn’t exist. but, i think that a lot of the stuff attributed to “race” is confounded with other factors (age, culture, accent).

    and even if there are cultural differences, there are certainly more universal similarities. Quit being lazy, get outside of your comfort zone, and start talking to people you normally wouldn’t. You and your risk-averse company will be better for it. Diversity does pay off, and it isn’t a cliche.

    i’m not a business type person (though my gf, sorry, had to make a reference! is a small business person), but my concept was that it was often best to stick with what you know. i don’t think either|or truisms work.

    my basic attitude is come back in 15 years. we will get a good sense of any structural bias in science at that point, too many asian american/origin scientists are only in their 30s.

  29. Most success is about “playing the game.” Most people who complain about not getting forward must begin with accepting that there “game playing” skills are not good enough, thats all. Women also complain about this frequently. (and the arguments you make apply there too)

    Well, I had a professor, too, who taught me that business is not a game, and we have no right to “play it” the way we do. He taught me that we are responsible for our actions, and we owe it to ourselves, the environment and everyone around us to quit treating our surroundings like a game. Have some social responsibility – life, and business, is not a game.

  30. the key is how much you weight these factors.

    Promoting your “friends” is totally dishonest, unfair, and inefficient and violates the social contract (b/c we can’t rely on the invisible hand alone). Executives have to find a balance of interests and it’s in their interest to have a fair, honest merit system, not just requiring people to play some game.

  31. Promoting your “friends” is totally dishonest, unfair, and inefficient and violates the social contract (b/c we can’t rely on the invisible hand alone). Executives have to find a balance of interests and it’s in their interest to have a fair, honest merit system, not just requiring people to play some game.

    back to science. the initial question abhi mooted, ‘is there a glass ceiling for asians in the sciences?’ i would say, not fundamentally because they are asians, in the greater proportion (there are traits correlated with asians, like a lower age profile in the sciences, which aren’t fundamental to asianness). frankly, i would be less irritated if you those for whom social responsibility a very important part of their lives focused on taxi cab drivers of south asian origin as opposed to scientists. scientists are relatively healthy and wealthy, if not as healthy and wealthy as the joneses.

  32. frankly, i would be less irritated if you those for whom social responsibility a very important part of their lives focused on taxi cab drivers of south asian origin as opposed to scientists. scientists are relatively healthy and wealthy, if not as healthy and wealthy as the joneses.

    You can apply the lessons of discrimination to whatever you like. Abhi posted science, which includes technology-rich firms, and that’s why we’re discussing it. Your suggestion is a fair one – tip the mutineers and start a new thread.

    AND just because someone is making a good income, does not mean they have to shut up and take a lower income/position than their white counterpart. That’s a really bad argument. Income is not the only source of happiness; success can be measured by how much one has accomplished, and for some people that means how/if one moves up the ladder, especially when it’s deserved. They have a right to be upset if they want to be and if there is a case.

  33. “As for your mother, well thats impressive, but does it make it okay that it took her 2 extra years to make up for the fact she wasn’t a man.”

    No. That’s my point. Perhaps I misunderstood your comment I was quoting. I thought you were saying that because of the “way things are” it makes business sense to promote an “acceptable” front man…in this case a white male.

    And I was saying that citing “the way things are” as a reason is why things stay the way they are :)

  34. As i’m sure you know business is dictated by money, plain and simple. Companies want to make as much as possible, and target their products to their customer base. So basically it is my interest(start up company)to have a blonde hair blue-eyed smooth talker selling my product. While i’m not happy about something like this, its in the hands of the public.

    Actually, no. You cannot do just anything b/c it will increase your profits. Lots of things are illegal or even just unethical in a way that’s barred under the terms of your IPO. Racial discrimination in the workplace is almost always one of them. (I’m pretty sure it is always one of them, but I’ll have to ask a lawyer.)

    But I am generally with Suresh and Chandrasekar et al here. The article doesn’t give any sense of timeline or tracked statistics. It makes no sense to compare the total percentage today with the tenured percentage today; you have to compare the total percentage 10 or 20 years ago with the tenured percentage today.

    There are also two different kinds of racism described here. (The extent to which they are going on in the Academic world requires more study.) There’s out and out skin-and-connections type racism, which can be faced by any Asian, including one who is as American as the next person but doesn’t look like the status quo nor has inherited a billion connections to it. There’s also cultural-ethnic racism which spans a much wider spectrum from obviously reprehensible to somewhat understandable. If someone writes beautiful English but speaks it incomprehensibly to the majority of their co-workers, that’s going to be a problem. If someone doesn’t get Seinfeld, well, that shouldn’t be a problem, but the inability to bond without it just may be. Some people really aren’t cut out to be immigrants. It’s a harsh thing to do to yourself and your life. Expecting it to go over smooth as butter is unrealistic. On the other hand, if a workplace has ridiculously narrow cultural expectations of what they can deal with–if they demean and disrespect people merely b/c their food is different or they didn’t live in a frat in college or whatever–that’s clearly wrong and wrongheaded.

    I don’t think diversity is a cliche in science, having worked for three years in an almost cartoonishly diverse biophysics lab with lab members swho raddled departments as well as continents and backgrounds and career paths. It’s like crossbreeding in anything. . .different ideas, experiences, and ways of working can, if encouraged, clash and collide harmoniously, coming up with entirely new and interesting ideas, experiences, and ways of working, many of which are going to be totally exciting and mindblowing, and none of which are likely to be a complete wash. I found it actually gave us something to constantly talk about, so there was no question of people not bonding or communicating with each other. “Hey, so, what’s the university exam system like in Argentina? This is how it is here. And in Colombia? And Japan? And France? And Russia? And the Ukraine? And India? And Taiwan? And the Netherlands? And Germany?” and voila, just over lunch we’d all learn something about huge parts of the world, and each other. This conversational grease was crucial because it was the same conversational grease that threw out amazing ideas when we were brainstorming various experimental mashups between molecular biology and tabletop physics and chemistry. The best scientists are naturally curious people, and approach life with awe and enthusiasm and an open mind. Diversity can only feed that. It also makes for better lab parties, with really good food and music, and I think good food is key for any intellectual endeavor, and good music usually helps.

    I agree that this ranks low in my list of racial issues to worry about. If, as time goes on, it proves to be a real problem, then it might be in the interests of this particular crowd to do something. I think now we should just keep an eye on the situation.

  35. “Some people really aren’t cut out to be immigrants.”

    So very true. I tell this quite often in India and here. However, never to discourage someone. As I am an immigrant, I cannot stop or discourage anyone. But it is not an easy journey. It has its rewards but……….

    Everyone is not cut out to be an immigrant. I know dozens of “incredibly bright, socially adapt (including my parents, relatives, and many western europeans)” who returned to their home country at the first possible opportunity. The brightest and enterprising people I met in graduate school are not even here.

    I am still keeping my mouth shout on glass ceiling in science, etc. However, science and technology in US will always be immigrant dominated, contrary to what Abhi, Razib, and some other’s contention and ideas are. All this talk about the new wave of Asian scientists bred in USA will lead the way is as baloney as saying new literary writers in Asian diaspora will be the “American bred”. It will happen in many cases not because they are born here. It will only happen if they do exciting work.

    Also, a career in science is very nonlinear – people get recognition at different times, some sooner, some later. Again, the best example is Chandrashekar. An immigrant scientist does have larger barriers to cross, as manish had pointed out. For example, breaking into grantsmanship club. In last four years, a great deal of my time is spent on establishing a track record for grants – for many reasons, it is not easy for anyone, and then you add some factors manish pointed out.

    If your goal is to only be a science manager, then you are better off with an MBA degree or something like that. Leaders in science are not the ones who command big budgets or personnel – the leaders are one whose work trail blazes a path for others, long after they are gone. It was that way yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow.

    At sepia mutiny, a lot of people are from elitist schools, just in the corridors in the science and engineering departments and see how for yourself many of them were born here – a tiny fraction even the ones who are in their 20s and 30s. I have been waiting for this new homeboy/ homegirl Asian wave for 20 years.

  36. Actually, no. You cannot do just anything b/c it will increase your profits. Lots of things are illegal or even just unethical in a way that’s barred under the terms of your IPO. Racial discrimination in the workplace is almost always one of them. (I’m pretty sure it is always one of them, but I’ll have to ask a lawyer.)

    I don’t know what your experience is with start ups, but that was a direct quote given from a silicon valley entrepreneur who has had 2 successful start ups. You can’t do anything to increase your profits? What country do you live in? This is the country where people worship the church of ATM.I’m not saying i agree with it, but i’m not going to be disillusioned to believe that big business is working to help me. All the scandals in past years from Enron, Worldcom, Martha Stewart, to Vioxx. Were they trying to increase profits? Is it not the unspoken american way?

    In regards to being illegal, proving racial discrimination in this type of situation i would imagine is ridiculously hard, like proving the tort of infliction of mental distress. Its a law, but nearly impossible to prove in court.

  37. Cocopuffs, I was just saying that it is illegal and one can complain about it, etc. etc. Not that the system is infallible, but that the business-is-supreme-and-nothing-else-matters-so-shut-your-whining mentality does not strictly apply. In other words, you and I are probably in agreement. I’m just saying that those people who say, well, the company should doe whatever is good for it–they are clearly in the wrong, both ethically and legally.

    It’s true that proving racial discrimination or mental distress is difficult, but it’s not impossible to get some change or recompense.

    Speaking of which, a May Settlement between UC and Asian American scientists at Livermore.

  38. I’m reminded of a story I read a while back about a Peruvian who became CEO of a US Fortune 500 company. (his name escapes me at the moment and a few min of googling didn’t turn it up… I believe he was at an auto parts supplier. It wasn’t Carlos Ghosn but someone like him…)

    Now as incorrigibly racist as some of you might find the US, we’re positively a sea of racial harmony relative to some of the crap that goes on in large chunks of Latin America. 4th generation folks born & raised in Argentina, for ex., will still introduce themselves as “Italian, from Argentina” or “German, from Argentina.” (it’s a sort of twisted, carried to an extreme version of the “tossed salad” vs. “melting pot” debate going on in the US today). And there is most def. a pecking order between the various “-from-”‘s which spans different countries there.

    In any case, this dude had given talks all over the world on different topics and was a pretty expert speaker. One day, while speaking to a bunch of execs in Brazil (a race story in and of itself) he was posed the question -

    “How did a Peruvian became CEO of an American Fortune 500 company?”

    He paused for a minute and said “you know, in America, I’ve never been asked that question.”

    Racism surely exists but I loathe using it as the first explanation for whatever statistical discrepency folks want to highlight….

  39. kush, my impression is that true achievement in science & tech is a “hockey stick” distribution, that is, a tiny minority make most of the contributions. it wouldn’t surprise me if a disproportionate number of foreigners are always well stocked in this sector, analogous to the impact of the jewish german physics diaspora in the first half of the 20th century. because of regression toward the mean the children of these people did not necessarily turn out to be the ones at the top of the hockey stick. but in any case, as regards work-a-day got-to-get-my-grant-money scientists, i am skeptical about the salience of discrimination based purely on skin color prejudice. i am extremely skeptical about attempts to simply draw a straight line from numbers to presumed discrimination because of lack of proportionality. consider the fact that the larson & witham survey of scientists with ph.ds suggests that while 40-45% of the general natural scientist population believes in a personal god, only 5-10% of national academy of science members do. could this be discrimination against the religious??? certainly dembski and co. might argue that, but i think there are other factors (not least of which that putting in a day at church removes 1 out of 7 days of productive work).

  40. Now as incorrigibly racist as some of you might find the US, we’re positively a sea of racial harmony relative to some of the crap that goes on in large chunks of Latin America. 4th generation folks born & raised in Argentina, for ex., will still introduce themselves as “Italian, from Argentina” or “German, from Argentina.” (it’s a sort of twisted, carried to an extreme version of the “tossed salad” vs. “melting pot” debate going on in the US today). And there is most def. a pecking order between the various “-from-”‘s which spans different countries there.

    There’s no doubt about that, agreed. But, don’t take for granted that there has been a long struggle to get to the point we’ve gotten to. And there is room for improvement. I don’t think anyone said there was a straight line from the numbers to racism; it’s a wait, watch, see, and be weary type of post.

  41. Razib said:

    7) also, i am sure discrimination exists. that being said, the discrimination that asians at the NIH go through seems trivial next to what blacks experienced. is this what “equal rights” is now getting reduced to? making sure that a chinese american scientist gets his promotion? if there is discrimination, that sucks, but there is a certain overhead with process that might eventually swamp about the system’s ability to achieve the ends.

    That is not what discrimination is reduced to. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that many of the people currently standing on soapboxes around this post are from areas where racism just isn’t that prevalent.

    But just because you haven’t seen it in your neighborhood lately don’t mean it ain’t anywhere else. Like radioactive waste, when it’s in your backyard, remediation suddenly becomes bit more urgent and pressing a matter.

  42. no, i live in a 95% white area, very little discrimination, though sometimes stupid chix want to get with me cuz they think i’ll kama sutra their asses (don’t take that literally, i’m a front door kind of guy). but of course some cowboys in eastern oregon did try to beat the shit out of me for dancing with a white girl in high school, so yeah, bigotry exists. i’m saying keep it perspective, ugly fat chix deal with a lot more systematic discrimation than brown dudes from what i can see.

    1) discrimation exists 2) attempting to create the best-of-all-worlds has to take a step back at some point 3) where we draw the line is dependent on values and judgements 4) too many people who think that discrimination is a fundamental and omnipresent fact of non-white/non-male/etc. etc. life forget that other people might have different opinions on where to draw the line based on their own experiences and values

  43. Glass Ceilings and Asian Americans: The New Face of Workplace Barriers by Deborah Woo (2000) “presents the findings of an in-depth study of how internal structural barriers are experienced in a federal government research centre, selected because of its prestigious reputation for research, commitment to diversity and large percentage of Asian scientists and engineers. Interview data from 19 individuals in senior positions (of whom 15 were Asian Americans), focused on how internal structural barriers were experienced. The glass ceiling at this site was experienced partly as a ‘cultural’ issue. It was seen to arise from the discrepancy between corporate culture (conspicuous displays of self-assertion) and Asian cultural values, that emphasise less aggressive, less self-promoting and less outspoken behaviour. Lack of mentoring was seen to impede the advancement of Asian American employees. A good mentor not only provides critical feedback on an individual’s performance and can ensure that a candidate receives high-visibility assignments, and access to critical developmental assignments. He/she can also advance a candidate’s case at higher levels.”

  44. … we’re positively a sea of racial harmony relative to some of the crap that goes on in large chunks of Latin America.

    Setting a low target, innit? Imagine if the Mercedes engineers replied, ‘But we’re so much better than Hyundai!’

    Let’s stay forward-facing.

  45. manish, i kind of thought the same thing in regards to vinod’s comment…and yet, what is the target? how do we set standards? i think a lot of the ‘low hanging fruit’ in regards to gov. palliation of blatant race discrimation and injustice has been taken care of by the 1960s and its follow-ups. the issues we confront in regards to race are pretty bizarre sometimes, i.e., the anger by some black americans that new orelans might be less black now than before seemed kind of strange in light of the push for integration.

    a question i would have is what nation has a better system of race relations than the USA? perhaps canada? the UK? that would give at least a tangible non-abstract target.

  46. and i’d rather be a sand nigger in america than a brown dude in brownland. life is about a variety of sucky choices.

    And I am sure you would rather be a brown dude in Banglaland than a black dude in Somalia. For people born in the US, the fact that things are worse in the country of their parents or grandparents origin is irrelevent and of no consequence or consolation.